New Year, New Focus

 

Simon and me at the beginning of our epic, 2 hour lunch date on New Year’s Eve.

Simon and I started a new tradition last year – a lunch date at our beloved Big Shucks discussing the past year and framing up the new year. Thank you, Ann Voskamp, for your excellent freebies to help us focus our goals in such a measurable way! (If you’ve never done this before, we highly recommend it.)

This lunch date was an integral part of living life purposefully this past year and I’m looking forward with eager anticipation to what 2017 will bring because of it. I do plan to continue blogging here, but during the course of “framing” 2017, I decided that I needed to spend more time writing offline than online this year. Blogging takes a lot of time and while I enjoyed blogging last year immensely, my focus has shifted for 2017.

The days leading up to our date I felt the Lord prompting me to go deeper with Him this year, to take a topic I am woefully unlearned in and saturate myself with what His Word says about it during the course of the entire year. In 2017, I’m going to sink my teeth into the reality of WHO I AM IN CHRIST and I look forward to sharing what the Lord shows me from time-to-time by blogging about it. My blogging will look sporadic compared to last year’s more regularly shared devotionals & Summer Bible Study, but I hope each post will help you to see just who YOU are in Christ in a clearer, sharper way, too.

Until next time, friend.

The Good News

As the accuser, the enemy of my soul is continually at work chipping away at my identity in Christ. He accuses me of how I never change; how wretched I am; how far I fall short…and he is right – I am and I do!

My performance, however, doesn’t make God’s Word about me, His love for me or what He has done on my behalf more or less powerful. It isn’t based on ME – my ability to live up to a standard, to do “this or that,” to achieve a certain level of performance or perfection. He came to seek and to save the lost! And I qualify!

THIS is Good News!

Roman 5-8

Angels & Shepherds, the Expressive Ones

imagesRead Luke 2:1-20.

We live in a “PC” world. Oftener and oftener the Christian’s worldview is shushed in deference to the agenda of the moment. My husband and I were talking just this week about the big divide we’ve seen this holiday season. Currently there is a media-driven rebellion against wishing someone a “Merry Christmas,” even though the malls are packed with Christmas shoppers and Amazon is busily delivering packages in time for Christmas morning. “Happy Holidays” is the new trend and to wish someone a “Merry Christmas” is unbelievably considered offensive.

The thing is, what is considered “PC” is ever-changing. It’s tough to keep your finger on the popular pulse at any given moment these days. I think that’s why the response of both the angels and the shepherds of the nativity stand out to me so much this year in particular –

Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!”  vv 13-14

the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. v 20

These last few days of the season, I want to challenge myself to live expressively in light of Emmanuel (“God with us”), the One for whom Christmas was named. I want to live uncensored in my praise of Him. I want my words and actions to express my beliefs. Like the angels and shepherds, I want glorify Him in an expressive way, that those around me may know the reason for the season by what I say and do.

On that note, I wish each of you a heartfelt Merry Christmas!

Magi, the Expectant Ones

The Wise Men Travel to Visit Jesus, LDS Media Library
The Wise Men Travel to Visit Jesus, LDS Media Library

Read: Matthew 2:1-12

I have collected nativities since 1990. I like to have them in every room in the house during December as a constant reminder of what I’m celebrating during this season. With holiday shopping, parties, decking the halls, filling shoeboxes, providing for angels, and just plain making memories with my minions, I can too quickly forget to focus on the birthday boy Himself. Maybe you can relate?

Several years ago I noticed that my mother-in-law, who has a beautiful collection of nativities herself, had one display of just the Magi. Just three wise men, all facing the same direction, all carrying different gifts, all quietly traveling toward something they couldn’t yet see.

I’ve thought about that partial nativity many times since first seeing it. The fact that the original Magi were attentive, that they weren’t casual observers of the world around them, but active and engaged, that they were looking for something when they “happened to notice” the star in the east. And the fact that they were expectant. They believed the Scriptures and combined with their knowledge of geography, astronomy and perhaps some other sciences, recognized the significance of the star’s appearance for what it was!

During this third week in December, in the midst of looking for deals or hunting down the “perfect” gift, ponder what it is you are looking for. What are you expecting this season?

Father, This time of year is so busy, so full of activity, to-do lists, parties, shopping, and stuff. Please, help me this holiday season to live in a more expectant way, with a heart attentive to You.

Joseph, the Contented One

I love this image of Joseph, freshly awakened and ready to obey the Lord's command. I found the image here.
Annunciation to Joseph by LDS artist Joseph Brickey, 2000.

Read: Matthew 1:18-25

I like Joseph. In my head, he was a quiet thinker. He was happily content. He was the kind of guy that kept his nose clean. He was responsible. He was dependable. When we’re introduced to Joseph, things are going pretty well for him. He is able to make a respectable living working with his hands as a carpenter. He was soon-to-be wed to Mary, a chaste and God-fearing young lady in the village. Before long, God would surely bless them with children to run and laugh around their happy home. Life was good.

Until it wasn’t.

His beloved fiancé…was pregnant? Who was the father? What should he do – expose her? divorce her?

He must have wrestled for hours over where it all went wrong and what he should do about it until finally – mercifully! – Joseph fell into what I imagine to be a hard-won sleep.

In the wee hours, Joseph finally lay sleeping quietly. It was then, as Joseph was still, that God whispered through Gabriel. He spoke to Joseph’s fears. He answered Joseph’s groanings that were too confused – too hurt – for words. He calmed the chaos that robbed Joseph of his prior contentment. And in response –

“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him.” (v 24)

As you navigate this second week of the {chaotic} Christmas season, begin by pondering what has robbed you of contentment during past holiday seasons? Is it the hustle and bustle of making lists and checking them twice? Is it holiday entertaining? Is is the constant strain from an overly committed calendar? Is it crowded stores? Financial stress? The self-imposed pressure of making this the “best Christmas ever?” Joseph’s contentment was found in living in obedience to God’s Word. What about yours?

This week, prioritize being still with God daily. Spend your time with Him listening more than speaking. And then, like Joseph, obey.

Mary, the Lord’s Servant

"Blessed Art Thou Among Women" by Walter Rane
“Blessed Art Thou Among Women” by Walter Rane

Read: Luke 1:26-38

Mary had plans. She was engaged to be married. Her man was stable, respectable and dependable. She was soon to embark on the next season of her life. You can almost hear her whistling while she cheerfully went about her work, maybe even daydreaming about the day she would soon become Mrs. Joseph. {contented sigh}

In a moment, Mary’s dreamy plans were altered. She was to be the mother of God’s Son, not Joseph’s. She was to name him Jesus, not whatever name had tickled her fancy growing up. He was going to go into His Father’s business, not the family business. And God was going to bring this about in a supernatural way, not by implementing the natural order of things.

Mary’s plans changed, her life altered course, not because of something she had done, but because she had found favor with God. Her reaction?

“Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.’ ”

As you walk through this first week in December, think about Mary’s response. Really ponder her words in the context of your own life and circumstances – in rush hour traffic, at the grocery store, in that important meeting, during the school play, at the library, while making dinner, at the neighborhood Christmas party. What is your response when life throws you a curveball? How do you react when your plans are frustrated? Is your knee-jerk reaction, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

 

Here We Go a-Adventing

Today is the first day of Advent for the Christmas season and if you’re like me, it has snuck up on you while you were focusing on keeping the thanks in Thanksgiving. Am I right?

Our family has traditionally begun the Christmas season on December 1. That first day in December is a much-anticipated one, especially the further down the ranks you go. On that one day, our home is transformed into a Christmas wonderland with nativities in every room to remind of us of the reason we are celebrating – Jesus birth. We deck the halls. We trim the trees. We hang the stockings with care.  And we begin the countdown to the Big Day with devotionals (and activities) that point us to the manger.

If you find yourself looking for something “more” than the usual holiday stresses, shopping and eating leading up to Christmas this year, I suggest trying one of these great family devotionals that you can begin on December 1 with no advanced prep work:

All the Colors of Christmas Devotional – a free, downloadable daily devotional with doable daily activities for the whole family by Focus on the Family.

Knowing Him by Name – another free, downloadable daily devotional with activities that focuses on a different name of Jesus by Focus on the Family

An Advent of Ideas – a daily devotional with activities that our dear neighbor gave us our first holiday season in the neighborhood; our family favorite is still available at Amazon (affiliate link)

51usb1owegl-_sx370_bo1204203200_In addition to our family devotionals/activities during Advent, I plan to focus my own heart on one witness of the incarnation per week with a short devotional. If this appeals to you, too, please check back on Thursday as I begin this short devotional series with Mary.

How do you focus your heart during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season? What family devotionals have worked for your family? I’d love to hear your suggestions for holiday devotionals and activities, both for yourself & your family. Please share links and your great suggestions in the comments section.

 

 

Giving Thanks ‘Round the Table

give-thanks-to-the-lord-and-proclaim-his-greatness-let-the-whole-world-know-what-he-has-done-i-chronicles-16-8

Thanksgiving Day is the ideal time to “Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done.” (I Chronicles 16:8)

Remembering His help, His faithfulness, and His active hand in our life helps shape our own perspectives. It also serves as an organic way to wave faith flags with those you love who have yet to come to know Him in a saving way.

One great way to do this around the Thanksgiving Day table is Gratitude Gab. The link has eleven questions that you can print out and scatter around your table as great conversation starters, or you can come up with your own. Questions like “Describe something that happened last week that you are thankful for and explain why?” are adaptable for everyone, no matter where they are on their faith walk, and help focus our hearts on grateful remembrances.

Another great way to steer conversation around the Thanksgiving dinner table toward what we’re thankful for is this simple conversation starter. Scatter slips of paper with a single word/category around the table – mom, dad, brother, sister, pet, neighbor, job, person on the right, friend, God. Throughout dinner, take turns picking up a category and talking about that particular topic by filling in this sentence – “A time you were thankful for…”

What traditions (new or old) will your family enjoy this year? Please share your great ideas in the comments.

 

Gratitude Game Night

532180_382579435158666_782925171_nFor years I have resented Black Friday. I remember a time not too long ago in which the “thanks” was kept in “Thanksgiving.” It was a treasured time of counting your blessings and adjusting your attitude to one of gratitude.

Not too far in the recent past, however, the commercialization of the Christmas season began it’s hostile takeover of Thanksgiving with the creation of my new nemesis, Black Friday. Not content with preempting the remaining Thanksgiving weekend with a consumerism mindset, early bird specials soon followed – beginning on Thanksgiving Day itself!

In an effort to keep the “thanks” in Thanksgiving, a few years ago our family started the tradition of getting together on Black Friday for dinner with another family, combining our leftovers from the day before and enjoying a good time of family fellowship instead of shopping. The past two years, we have added games to our night of fellowship. This year, we’re planning the whole evening as an extension of Thanksgiving Day with Gratitude Game Night.gratitude

Gratitude Game

Everyone gets two slips of paper and writes one word on each slip of something for which they are thankful. For example, my daughter bought her first car this summer, so it would be entirely appropriate for her to write “car” on one. All slips are collected in a bowl. The bowl is passed around the table with players selecting one at a time. Take turns trying to get the table to guess your word without using that word, similar to CatchPhrase. Alternate version – play as family teams.

Thanksgiving Scattergories

One person at a time chooses a letter of the alphabet. Using a timer, each player (or team) writes as many things for which they are thankful that begin with that letter as they can imagine. When the timer goes off, each player (or team) shares their list one item at a time. All duplicated items on everyone’s lists are marked out. The player (or team) with the most items still on their list is the winner!

Wiki-Thanksgiving

Each player thinks of something for which they are thankful. On a 3×5 card, they write a definition of that thing from the general to the more specific. All cards go into a bowl, which gets sent around the table one player at a time. Each player takes one card out, reads the definition to the group and each person tries to 1) figure out what the object of thanks is, and 2) who wrote it.

How does your family keep the “thanks” in Thanksgiving? Please share your bright ideas (or links) in the comments.